There is the feeling that we’re in the midst of a cataclysmic change — a change so fundamental that it will disrupt the current order of things. I remember years ago viewing a Joel Barker video called Paradigm Shifts. In it he speaks to the notion that when large-scale change occurs everything goes back to zero. He notes the effect on Swiss watch manufacturers when the digital watch was invented (ironically by the Swiss but left unpatented in plain view of the Japanese who mass produced it). The Swiss 85% market share went back to almost nothing. Today, we can imagine the changes that are likely to occur from this Second Great Depression: complete redesign of banking with much more federal government ownership; government involvement in housing, health care, and education; far less trust of big business resulting in a return to smaller, more entrepreneurial organizations. In addition, there are the social changes that are occurring: the new generations entering the workforce communicate differently (text messaging and instant messaging) and feel very comfortable seeking advice and direction from peers, more than from authority. We no longer believe in investing in retirement the way we have in the past. When I looked at my 2008 summary documents on my retirement funds, I questioned whether I would have been better off keeping the money, paying the taxes at the time, and putting it under the mattress. Would I be ahead of the game at this point? Yup, we’re heading back to — zero.
What does it mean for each of us in business and non-profits if we go back to zero? It requires that we reinvent ourselves — that we re-examine whether our products and services will be valued in the future, and if not, how they need to be transformed. For example, I know that training is going to change. Younger generations want to be continuously “filling their backpacks” with knowledge and want information when they need it — not when it’s scheduled to occur. They prefer multi-tasking and use a wide social network to gather what they need. Their ability to communicate face-to-face is diminished because of the over-dependence on texting and Facebook where individuals can keep editing and editing what they want to say until they have it perfectly. Dynamic communication doesn’t occur that way. They are going to need help with this going forward. Older generations in the workforce are going to need help motivating younger workers who have no interest in paying some “imaginary” dues to qualify for involvement in strategic planning because they have no intention of staying with the organization that long. It’s a new world.
Faced with these core changes in our belief systems, we can either look at them all as overwhelming and fearful, or we can see them as opportunities to stretch our thinking and look at and listen for new possibilities. Which will we choose?